The House overwhelmingly passed a bill on Tuesday establishing a fund for victims of human trafficking and strengthening federal and state enforcement against trafficking. The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act passed on May 19 by an unusually large bipartisan margin of 420-3, almost a month after it passed the Senate following a weeks-long hold-up by Senate Democrats. The bill hikes penalties against convicted traffickers and directs the fines to a fund for human trafficking victims, for aid to the victims and grants to local and state enforcement against trafficking. The Democrats had derailed its passage because of provisions restricting abortion funding. The original legislation extended Hyde Amendment protections to the fund, meaning that no money from the fund could go to abortions. Democrats successfully stalled the bill’s passage in the Senate for weeks. The Hyde Amendment prohibits taxpayer funds from going to abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake. It is often attached to appropriations bills. The Republican leadership would not hold a vote to nominate President Obama’s candidate for Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, until the bill passed. A compromise was then reached — two funding streams were established for the victims’ fund, one from trafficking fines which could not go toward any health care, and the other from public funds already marked for community health centers, which are already subject to Hyde Amendment protections. The Senate passed the bill 99-0 and then nominated Lynch to be the next U.S. Attorney General. The act originated from a collection of House bills fighting trafficking that were passed earlier in 2015. After the updated Senate bill passed the house on May 19, members of Congress applauded the passage on an issue they say transcends partisanship. Around 100,000 children are trafficked in the U.S. each year, stated Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) on May 18, most of them young girls. Most of them, once they are rescued, are prosecuted instead of being cared for. “These children when found are often charged for prostitution, fined, or put in juvenile detention where there are or should be other options available. These children, mostly young girls, need to be protected and cared for, and treated with compassion and respect, not prosecution,” he said. “It is a harsh reality that sexual slavery persists across America. With this legislation, Congress has taken a firm stand against the pimps and Johns and for women and children,” stated Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). “When 25,000 women and children are trafficked in Illinois alone each year, and millions more across the globe are caught in this modern-day slavery, it is our responsibility to stand up for victims and prosecute predators,” stated Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.). Pope Francis has been particularly vocal in his papacy about fighting human trafficking. He helped spur the first international “Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking,” which was held Feb. 8. That day, he offered his encouragement to those working to end the trafficking of those are “enslaved, exploited, abused as instruments of work or pleasure, and often tortured and humiliated.” He then called governments to action in “removing the cause of this shameful wound … a wound unworthy in a civil society.”
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